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Camping with a Cabin: A Look Inside Public Use Cabins Across Alaska

Published On: Jul 02 2013 06:36:00 PM AKDT

Public use cabins provide Alaskans and tourists an opportunity to camp in Alaska's rugged back country without bringing the tent. Across the state of Alaska there are approximately 300 public use cabins available for rent, according to the Alaska Public Lands Information Center.

Deputy Director and Chief of Field Operations for Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation Claire LeClair said, "What they provide for the public is sort of a softer camping experience. So you don't have to bring your tent or a bunk, but other than that, you need to bring everything."

Most cabins are furnished with bunks, a wood burning stove and an outhouse. LeClair explained that means users are encouraged to bring firewood, sleeping bags, toilet paper, food and utensils. 

"It's all you need. It's a place to eat, play games, read, sleep and wood stove,” said public use cabin user Tamara Zellers. “That’s all you really need, so it's nice."

Zellers said she was camping at the Bald Lake Cabin near Willow. That Bald Lake Cabin was built a decade ago and is only a quarter-mile from the Bald Lake Trail Head. Some cabins, however, are only accessible by boat or plane and many require at least a 3-mile hike. The private locations are something that attracts cabin users year-round. 

LeClair says in the past three years the Department of Natural Resources has added at least three or four cabins to the system and they expect to see more added in the future.

In addition to DNR's list of public use cabins other entities operate cabin rentals in Alaska, including The National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and The National Forest. 

According to Tongass National Forest staff, The Denver Caboose could be one of the oldest Public Use Cabins in Alaska. It is an original railroad car from the Klondike gold rush used on the White Pass and Yukon Route in the early 1890s. It was refurbished to be a cabin in the 1990s.

Other public use cabins with deep history include Slavens Roadhouse. According to the National Park Service website, the Slaven Roadhouse, found in the Yukon- Charley Rivers National preserve, was built in 1932 by Frank Slaven, Sandy Johnson, Alfred Johnson, Arthur Reynolds and Ed Brown. It has since been refurbished and serves as a drop-dog point during the Yukon Quest dog sledding race. 

According to DNR staff, while anyone can rent public use cabins, Alaskan's do get a perk. Residents can book a cabin 7 months in advance. While tourists booking opportunities are one month shorter, in both cases it's up to users to maintain the cabin. DNR staff do check on cabins, but not after every visit.

"We really ask the folks who rent the cabins to be very responsible about leaving the cabin in good shape," LeClair said. "Don’t leave any food in the cabins especially in areas that have bears, which is just about everywhere in Alaska."

The only mark you're encouraged to leave is a note in each cabins unique log book.

"We have log books in the cabins and being able to read some of those, some will bring tears to your eyes and some will make you roll on the floor laughing," said Public Information Center Manager Kathy Johnson, "People have the gambit of time, you know, with their recreation."

Whether it is recreation or quiet time, a public use cabin offers something for everyone.

To rent a public use cabin visit the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers website where you can find a full list of public use cabins across the state.

Contact Mallory Peebles